My new friend is waiting for me when I get off work.
She’s sitting on the steps in front of my building, in the windy dark, because it is late and she doesn’t have anywhere to go. Or rather, she has a home to go to but it doesn’t feel like home to her.
I know she is my new friend because when we met earlier, when we introduced ourselves and promptly forgot one anothers’ names, I could see in her eyes the person I sometimes see in the mirror.
I know why she doesn’t feel at home where she lives, and that she doesn’t even feel at home in her own skin.
I know that the planet is too small for her sometimes, and that on nights like this, there is nowhere to go because she doesn’t belong anywhere.
“You’re still here,” I say, strangely glad to see this stranger.
She jumps up with a grin and says, “Let’s go get a drink.”
I am instantly drawn to that grin. The cautious part of me is slapped down and I agree that yes, we should go get a drink, because I want to hear her story.
I know it already, deep down, but I want to hear it and she needs to tell it.
We belly up to the bar and she begins sucking down alcohol like it’s oxygen and she’s at the top of Mount Everest. She tells me she’s not gay, that I don’t have to worry about that, and I laugh; that is the least of my worries today.
She tells me she’s just having a few last drinks because tomorrow everything will change. Tomorrow she starts therapy and rehab and a litany of medications. I nod, waiting for the revelation, and she pauses for breath and looks at me with the deep pools of her eyes.
I see pain there, and unaccountable joy, and fierce unrelenting love.
And here it comes: she tells me she has been recently diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder. And then she waits for me to get up and leave.
I don’t leave. I listen to her story. How her child has been taken from her, how her family has given up on her and friends have walked out, because they’re exhausted. Because she’s crazy and an alcoholic and a terrible parent.
Because it’s always the same thing with her: the crushing depression that they can’t pull her out of, the endless emptiness she’s always trying to fill with drugs, sex, alcohol, friendships, love. She tells me she loves the guys that hate her and hates the guys that love her.
I nod, and nod, and nod.
A person doesn’t have to be mentally ill to fail at life, but it helps. She doesn’t have to have a “diagnosis” to feel like a loser, but know what’s guaranteed to make her feel like a loser? A doctor telling her that she is. That she will be sick for life; that she must give up her tweenish idea of normal and submit to a list of medications, therapy, decent bedtimes and a ban on all the things that used to make her feel right with the world.
The things she’s lost—the losses that make her a loser—are legion. Late nights talking over wine with friends. The ability to travel without dragging along a bag of medication. The wild, creative, right-brained moments that leave her breathless with her own brilliance. The friends who are too tired to deal with her. The family who tells her to “snap out of it.”
If she lets it, the sickness will take everything from her. If she agrees to be sick, if she identifies with the Diagnosis, she loses. The survivors are the ones who fight back, the ones who refuse to “be” sick. It’s society that’s sick—a social order that treats mental illness like the Plague.
I tell her this:
You do what you can and leave the rest. You can’t make people love you. You can’t make them understand. But you can salvage yourself from the wreckage, you can learn that the waves threatening to drown you are not going to last forever, that nothing lasts forever.
In between those waves is reconciliation, forgiveness, space for understanding and compassion. The right people will love you and listen to you and bear you up, they will encourage you to be your best self. The people who don’t? They’re not the right people.
Let them go.
She’s drunk by now but still listening. I offer her a ride home but I know she will refuse. She can’t go there; she can’t be alone with herself right now. I have to leave her at the bar and trust she will be alright; that she will make it home eventually, whether it’s tonight or some other night.
I hug her tight and leave the bar and send her love all the way back to my own home-that-is-not-home, in my own skin that is not mine, with my own heart blazing out all its courage and hope and sadness and love.
I tell myself I am alright, because for tonight I am, and the Diagnosis can go fuck itself because I have friends to make and people to love and tomorrow to dream about.
I send my new friend a message:
Thank you for reaching out to me. You will be alright.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Kim Haas / Editor: Renée Picard
Photo Credit: sprout_creative via Flickr